Did you ever fall asleep on an arm or a leg as child, and marvelled at the sensation as proper body flow made its way back to the limb? Or maybe you were one of those kids who tightly wrapped a string around the tip of their finger, just to see it turn purple. Nathan does that… Freaks me out every time he does. But anyway, a limb tends to “fall asleep” when there isn’t sufficient or proper blood flow to the appendage. Left unchecked, it can become uncomfortable, numb and even painful until you get some movement into it and restore your circulation.
Everyone experiences this sensation in some given way, shape or form at one point or another in their lives. If you have Type-1 Diabetes for any number of years, this sensation happens on its own and usually far too often for comfort. Over years of having the condition, one’s blood circulation can become hindered by damaged blood vessels; a result of years of bad blood sugars, poor dietary habits and lifestyle. The damaged vessels will usually form more plaque than healthy ones, leading to less circulation.
This particular problem is aggravated if you happen to be a smoker or have high blood pressure. If left unchecked over time, it can lead to stroke, heart attack and permanent damage to limbs. Most literature seems to refer specifically to foot circulation, but it can occur in other limbs, as well. I’ve started to notice that I seem to lose feeling in my fingertips if I sit on the couch with my arm up on the back for more than five minutes. It’s incredibly annoying. I’ve also had to start altering my sleep habits, as if I didn’t already have enough trouble sleeping.
I’ll often wake up in a position where I fell asleep on my side or in a position that kept an arm or a leg under me for a period of time, resulting in several minutes of moving and flexing the limb in order to restore proper circulation before falling asleep again. It’s become somewhat problematic, and I can’t be certain if this is an issue surrounding my recent break from intense physical activity, progressing age or a combination of both. Having started a new routine where I’m awake at five o’clock every morning, every minute of sleep is critical.
All the material I’ve read (and there’s plenty out there) identifies physical activity as the top way to prevent circulatory issues in folks with Diabetes. Certain lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking can go a long way as well. Smoking can harden the arteries and increase blood pressure, which can lead to poorer circulation. But getting your exercise in can be an easy and healthy way of increasing circulation and ensuring better health. That means it’s time for me to step off the sidelines and get back into an intensive groove,
Besides keeping good blood flow, poor circulation will also be the culprit when wounds take longer to heal. Over time, this can lead to infections and ulcers on the limb. This is one of the reasons why you often hear of uncontrolled Diabetes leading to some form of amputation. It can also lead to heart issues, since the damaging of blood vessels and arteries surrounding the heart can lead to heart disease.
Alright. Now that I’ve got everyone sufficiently bummed you all out, it isn’t ALL bad news. There’s plenty one can do to help stem and/or prevent these complications. Believe it or not, putting your feet up when you get home from work is a great start. I’ll leave it to you to decide if you may be putting your life at risk by coming home and kicking up your feet, first thing. But jokes aside, putting your feet up when you sit can be helpful. Keeping the movement going is another good practice. When my wife and I are watching television for any length of time, I’ll usually flex and move my toes every few minutes. Its become a subconscious habit, and it helps to maintaining proper circulation.
Other steps include all the usual stuff that any doctor will tell you. Increase your overall weekly fitness. Take a walk, go running, cycling or swimming. Aerobic exercise is best in this instance, but as long as you incorporate movement everywhere in your body, you can’t go wrong. Maintaining good blood sugar levels and better overall A1C’s is also key. The better controlled your blood sugars are, the less overall damage to your circulatory system you’ll cause. Doctors will often recommend sleeping with a pillow between one’s legs to prevent blocking blood flow, but let’s be honest… I move way too much in my sleep for THAT to be effective.
I’ve grown up seeing far too many other folks lose a foot or a leg to amputation due to poor circulation due to Diabetes. Although none of the complications associated with Diabetes are pleasant, I think using the use of my eyes or legs would definitely be at the top of my “nope” list. Last week, I started waking up at 5 o’clock, going downstairs and cracking out a quick, 30-minute circuit workout before getting prepped for work. With better weather on the horizon, it’s a good first step in moving back towards proper fitness. And letting it flow. ☯